POLICY ON AFGHANISTAN
Pakistan_facilitiesI have been asked to "put up or shut up" about Afghanistan. In other words, I have been asked to make clear my views on an appropriate US policy for Afghanistan. I thought I had done that, but, no matter.
I think that we Americans need to stop exagerating the level of threat to the United States that originates or will originate in Afghanistan. The temptation to see the activities and scheming of takfiri jihadis as parts of a world war between the Islamic "House of War" and the rest of us has caused us to begin to re-design our society(ies) for total war against an all powerful and virtually eternal enemy. This is nonsense. Islam, Islamdom, and Islamicate Civilization are much given, as are other such cultural constructs, to revivalism in a pattern that recurs over centuries as memory of the costs of each revival fades from the living collective mind. The present phenomenon of Islamic zealotry is not something new. It is something old come again. This wave of revivalism has peaked and will decline under the pressure of local government and religious establishments, foreign military intervention and the competition presented by other forms of Islam, each with its claim to universal authenticity and its own circle of adherents.
In Afghanistan there is always war; war for resources, honor, leadership, authenticity of Islamic identity. The causes of war are endless. There are many different peoples in Afghanistan; Pushtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Nuristani, etc. etc. etc. Many of these groups speak mutually incomprehensible languages. They are mostly Sunni, but some, like the Hazara, are Shia. What we see now in Afghanistan is NOT a "theater of war" in a "global war on terror." Rather, it is a continuation of the ancient Afghan pattern of traditional warfare among the peoples, their groupings old and new, and sectarian definitions of Islamic truth. The minions of the Al-Qa'ida related zealot groups are scattered and hidden in the "landscape" of ever shifting conflict that is Afghanistan. They are like raisins in a cake. These "raisins" are a danger to the United States. They are a danger but not an "existential" threat to our "way of life" as they are sometimes described. Americans are not going to experience a mass conversion to the Al-Qa'ida version of Islam. Such a conversion would be a threat to our "way of life" but it will not happen. Nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in the hands of Al-Qa'ida? The "dirty bomb" thing? None of these threats are existential threats to the United States. The US is too big a country for that. The Soviet Union with its thousands of hydrogen bombs was an existential threat to the Uhnited States, but not Al-Qa'ida. Americans in their obsession with self tend to confuse personal survival with group survival. In this case, the group under consideration is the American polity. That entity is in no way threatened existentially by the raggedy jihadis in Afghanistan or their better dressed fellow enthusiasts elsewhere. For true Muslims, the survuival of the 'Umma is all important. The base line truth is, as Cieran says, that attacks with 50kt. weapons would be met with retaliation with multi-megaton weapons. That would be the end of Islamdom in many places. It would not be the end of Islam but Muslim polities would suffer to an extent that few can imagine. Faced with that truth only a handful of fanatics would even consider such a thing. Therefore, it is the handful of fanatics that should be the objects of our attention. They are dangerous to us at the individual, familial and local levels.
President Obama in his announcement of policy with regard to Afghanistan, said that our goal would be to disrupt, disorganize and destroy our enemies. That is an appropriate goal given the actual size and intensity of the threat. Forget about nation building in Afghanistan. Forget about generational commitments of vast amounts of treasure that we no longer possess. Forget about Cheney's nonsensical 1% solution. This sounds like a half-baked "lift" from the Israeli Right. A decent regard for the opinion of mankind would point to the wisdom of infrastructure building aid for the Afghans on a multi-national basis. Past that point we should focus on killing and disrupting the adherents of tiny sects that opt for violent action against what they see as unbelief. Most Afghans, indeed most Pushtuns do not want an unending war with the US. They are more than willing, like Willie Sutton, to go where the money is. The goal of policy in Afghanistan should be to pit the majority(ies) against the handful of people who actively threaten us. Is this war? Yes. It is my kind of war.
In Pakistan the problem is very different. There, a developed post-colonial state is threatened by a reversion to ancient forms of conflict. Once again, the Pushtuns of the mountain and hill country seek to impose their will on the people of the plain of the Indus watershed. The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan makes a victory of the hillmen unacceptable to the US. As I wrote at the National Journal blog this week, a return to Pakistan Army control of the government and imposition of government control over the border country seems the only acceptable solution and the United States should stop impeding that outcome.